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What's new in iJamming!...
(Last updated
Tue, Oct 15, 2002) 10:56 pm
Local legends and international influence come home to party
28 Albums Rocking Our World
The Who at Madison Square Garden
A wash-out
The Movie
The Party
Cedell Davis, Tuatara, and The Minus 5 atthe Knitting Factory
Still 'A Man And A Half'
30 Albums, 5 Songs, 5 books and a handful of movies
The 'Me Without You' Soundtrack
Rose of Virginia from Charles Melton, Barossa Valley, Australia,
An obituary by Chris Charlesworth
Back On The (Flying Saucer) Attck
The iJAMMING! interview
Featured Mix CD
Grandmaster Flash Essential Mix Classic Edition
30 Albums, 10 Songs, 5 books and a handful of movies.
Eight Days in A Week's Music:
Ed Harcourt, Vines, Candy Butchers, Timo Maas, Ashley Casselle & Adam Freeland, Aerial Love Feed, and enough little club nights to shake several sticks at.
Tony's (lengthy) trip down nostalgia lane from his visit home at the end of April. Stop-offs include Death Disco, old Jamming! Magazines, life-long friendships, road trips to Brighton, Damilola Taylor and political frustration, Morrissey-Marr, Zeitgeist, Oasis, Dexys, Primal Scream, the current British music scene and more.
Jack magazine comes out of the starting gate with the banner headline "best new men's mag in years."
Why I re-wrote the book: The introduction to the new edition of my R.E.M. biography, due out this summer through Omnibus.
Chemical Brothers, Neil Young, Van Morrison, Paul Westerberg, Skywalking, Joe Strummer, Radio 4, and Aquatulle.
A weekend with John Mayer, Sugarcult - and Elvis
Michael Greene's Grammy Speech: An Invitation to Download?
Plus: 10 things they forgot to tell you at the Grammys.
What the Hell Is Going On Here?
From the Jamming! Archives:
interviewed in 1978
"A number one single would be a bit scary."
The iJamming! interview:
"'Acid Trax' by Phuture came out and I was just 'Okay, forget all hip hop and all old school rare groove right here, this is it.'"
The Best Of 2001
Tony Fletcher's Top Albums, Concerts, Singles and Books - and comments on the Village Voice Poll
MUSING on The Manhattan 'Edge':
Will the Island Ever Again Be A 'Cultural Ground Zero?'
hostess 'Lee Patrick' recalls her time as Keith Moon's amour
ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN: "Flowers is Echo & The Bunnymen's finest hour since Ocean Rain."
An intrigue of early 90s New York nightlife.
NEW CHAPTER now online
From the Jamming! Archives:
U2 interviewed in 1984.
"It's not U2 that's creating this great art. . .There's something that works through us to create in this way."
iJamming! Wino/Muso:
"New world wines are just too techno for me."
Featured wine region 3:
Featured wine region 4:
iJamming! interview:
Jesse Hartman, aka LAPTOP
"Every New York band knows the meaning of failure"
MIX Albums:
Who, what and why you should bother
"I don't think people realize that life can become so exciting and interesting that it can draw you away for long periods of time from creating music - & why not?"
From the Keith Moon archives:
the JEFF BECK interview .
The iJAMMING! chat:

"If I was asked why Sniffin' Glue was so important, it was the way we conducted ourselves, the style of it, just the attitude. It had attitude in abundance didn't it?"
Forgotten Classics:
THE CHILLS: Brave Words
THE iJAMMING! Book Review:
SNIFFIN' GLUE: The Essential Punk Accessory
From the JAMMING! archives: PAUL WELLER ON POP
Featured wine region 2:
From the JAMMING! archives: ALTERNATIVE TV
interviewed in 1978
Fran Healy explains why "you cannot own a song." (And why Liam Gallagher "is going to turn into a really great songwriter.")
Featured Artist Web Site:
From the JAMMING! archives: The Story That Spawned Creation
Featured vine:
Finally, a worthy rival to Chardonnay.
The iJAMMING! interview:
"Once you've had your go, what-ever it may be, they want you to piss off, and they can't bear it if you come back, they can't bear it."
Featured wine region 1:
The full iJamming! Contents
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Diners are an American standard, and their musical choices lean toward the same. That made it all the more pleasant to eat at Bonnie's Grill on Fifth Avenue (between Garfield Place and 1st Street) in Brooklyn Friday night and hear the new Clinic album Walking With Thee played across the house system in its entirety. (Clinic are shown, at right, playing the Hudson River Park in June.) But then you wouldn't expect music any less incisive or interesting from a restaurant co-owned by a former manager of St. Mark's Sounds, the infamous East Village record store where new albums are often available at surprisingly low prices before their official release date. (Nothing to do with it being a favourite haunt of music journalists keen to offload their excess freebies, of course. . .)

Good taste in music is evident throughout the compact Bonnie's Grill, with framed photos of blues legends filling much of the wall space. Fortunately, good taste in food is equally apparent, with Mike Haber and his partner Anthony Bonfilio concentrating on hearty comfort food delivered with a spicy kick. (Bonfilio claims a collection of 500 hot sauces.) Buffalo wings, burgers with garlic mayo, vegetable chili and red pepper hummus are among the menu's staples; last time I was there (which was also my first) I had the latter two items, and each was highly satisfactory – and genuinely filling. Friday night, extremely hungry and between two drinking dates, I easily found room for a Portobello mushroom burger (i.e. the mushroom is the meat, as this here vegetarian likes it to be) topped with the aforementioned garlic mayo, accompanied by French fries (chips to the Brits!) drizzled in a chipotle sauce. I washed this down with a complementary and equally fiery Post Road pumpkin ale itself spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg. The bottled beer collection runs the gamut from Brooklyn IPA to Fullers ESB, there's a couple of rotating beer choices to be found on tap, and there's an accessible and just-about affordable range in wine, including some half bottles for those eating on their own, along with a port or two to round the night off. (More attention could be paid to finding wines that match the spicy food, however: Beaujolais, Cabernet and Chardonnay are well and good on their own, but a menu this spicy cries out for Viogniers and Zinfandels.)

All in all, Bonnie's Grill is the kind of diner always destined to be a hit with Park Slopers, given its spicy variation on fail-safe familiars, its eclectic drinks and music choices, and its friendly prices. My only complaint on the food is the extent to which it sticks to the ribs, but allowing that I asked for and then ate a triple chocolate brownie after my mushroom burger Friday night, I guess I've only myself to blame. And yes, this may look like a puff piece for a friend's burgeoning business, but fact is I barely knew Mike Haber up at Sounds, had no knowledge that he was a partner in Bonnie's until earlier this summer, and indeed, the Grill was open and thriving for a full two years before I finally stopped by. My delay was inexcusable, and my glowing tribute here is merely making up for lost time. Fortunately, and unlike its next door neighbor Vaux – the first notable failure on Park Slope's ever-expanding restaurant row – Bonnie's doesn't look like it's going away any time soon.

Given that I was eating on my own Friday, I asked Mike for some reading material, at which he handed me the September issue of Magnet magazine. (Makes a change from the New York Post or Daily News found at most diners.) This offered another pleasant surprise, for Magnet – much like Alternative Press – has progressed over the years from a passable but not particularly provocative 'zine to a successful monthly, now on issue 55, and home to some truly first-rate music journalism. In the September issue, I was particularly taken by a last-page editorial that critiqued the musical associations with the British Golden Jubilee celebrations, including the co-option of Ozzy Osbourne into the Buckingham Palace concert, the knighting of Mick Jagger, and the all too predictable reformation by the Sex Pistols (two months too late); that this appeared to be written by an American, one living here no less, made it all the more perceptive. Interviews with David Bowie and Jarvis Cocker were interesting if somewhat predictable; I was most taken by the cover story on Paul Westerberg, which gave us as good a potted history of The Replacements as any I've read while accurately placing him in his current context, praising his new Stereo/Mono double release (read my review here), and allowing the acerbic and understandably defensive Westerberg to deliver many a great one-liner. My favorite, and I paraphrase, was: "People keep asking me how I managed to get that Replacements sound onto the new album. It's easy: it's called 'Take One.'"



Keith Moon died twenty-four years ago today, at the age of 32. (He is shown at left a month before he passed away.) The details of his demise have been churned over many times; suffice to say he remains enormously missed and immensely loved. Had he lived, he would have been 56 years old.



The car stereo is not necessarily the optimum way to hear new music, given that it is forced to compete with passengers’ conversation, driver’s concentration and traffic noise, but then again, it’s so often the environment in which the greatest songs end up getting heard the most. And so taking an album for a test drive seems an appropriate way to test its immediate impact as well as its durability over the long haul. During a trip home from upstate New York last week, we (the wife and I) worked through a bunch of new releases, and were crushingly disappointed by no less than five in a row. So disappointed, in fact, especially considering how much I was looking forward to some of them, that I’ve subsequently come back to each to see if it was just a bad listening day. Only to some extent, for while certain subtleties have since grown on me, all are let-downs for a number of reasons. Given that only the first of them has even a chance of making the September Hit List, I feel compelled to share my disappointment.

Beginning with the least egregious offender, Saint Etienne’s Finisterre (Mantra UK/Beggars USA) is by no obvious definition a bad album. Were it the London trio’s debut, I’d surely be hailing it as something inspired. But there's the rub: Finisterre sounds so similar (and yet inferior) to Saint Etienne’s classic 1991 debut Fox Base Alpha and its 1993 successor So Tough that you have to wonder why they still bother.

In all and absolute fairness, I know that they tried branching out in the mid-nineties: Sarah Cracknell took an ill-advised solo detour, musicians Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs started an ill-fated boutique label, and the last album, 2000's Sound of Water was an attempt to experiment. So maybe we can't blame them for opting to return to their tried and tested formula as if they’d just invented it: Cracknell’s sugary sixties vocals wafting over Stanley and Wiggs’ clubby rhythms and often luscious orchestral arrangements in an easy-going, mostly effortlessly enjoyable manner.

But that's offset by their other mainstay: an obsession with a glorified London and England of Colin MacInnes' yester-year, one which sounded cute ten years ago but now just seems provincial. (Even their web site is designed like the London Underground.) On Finisterre this involves a 'tween-song voice-over from upper-crust actor Michael Jayston, who delivers lines like "I have good news from Notting Hill, the consignment of white gold has arrived for Mr Anderson," that are annoying on first listen and aggravating thereafter. These aphorisms occasionally suggest relevance to the songs they introduce, but when the defiant 'Rock Palast' ("this is our wall of sound") is introduced with the voice-over "Rock music could be so great, but we make it so rubbishy," one wants to say exactly the same of the album at hand.

Finisterre closes with a line that reveals more about the trio's clique-ness that its prior inventiveness. "You see, McGee was into deals, Barrett was into moves," may sound like something out of a movie, but it's an in-joke reference to Saint Etienne's former label heads and London music biz entrepreneurs Alan McGee (founder of Creation Records) and Jeff Barrett (Heavenly supremo). Cool for those in the know, irrelevant to everyone else.

There are several good songs on Finisterre: 'Shower Science,' the title track and the instrumentals 'Language Lab' and 'The Way We Live Now' are all just about up to par with Saint Etienne's considerable track record. But there are also some bad ones: 'Soft Like Me' has a dreadful feminine-feminist rap from MC Wildflower, 'Amateur' a bunch of bad rhymes of its own. Most frustrating of all, beyond the Jayston voice over and the return to a ten year old formula, is the lack of great songs, and that leaves me realizing how Saint Etienne are one of those bands that always seems so much better in theory than they sound in practice.

Last year, I followed a friend on from casual drinks to see Tahiti 80 at the Bowery Ballroom (even bought a ticket!); I was sold on his promise of a French rock band with hefty guitar riffs a la the Kinks and the Who. My friend may have been thinking of the act's clever song 'Mr Davies' about the Kinks' leader ("he gives me complexes, because he's considered a songwriter and I'm not") but there was little of Ray Davies' younger brother Dave's famous feedback on stage that night. And while I shared the good vibes that were in the air, appreciated the choice cover of A R Kane's 'A Love From Outer Space', and grooved to bulky bassist Pedro Resende's funky solos, I was left distinctly underwhelmed by the group's over-riding inoffensiveness.

The forthcoming album, entitled Wallpaper For The Soul (full marks for honesty, if nothing else), only reinforces this perception. Primary influences would appear to be the Style Council at their wimpiest ('1000 Times'), Travis at their wimpiest ('The Other Side') and the Boo Radleys at their wimpiest ('Soul Deep'); the rest of the time I find myself thinking of none other than Steely Dan. Only toward the album's conclusion, on 'The Train' and 'Don't Look Below,' do the guitars up the ante towards the British Invasion sound on which the group lays so much of its reputation, but by then Xavier Boyer's faux soul (and often falsetto) voice has become grating in its obsequiousness. The lyrics, sung in English as per most European acts, can be equally annoying: if the melodies didn't cut through the car stereo, repetitive choruses like "Do you like being at the fun fair?" certainly did. Several further listens, while failing to provoke a search for the remote control buttons (the album's too harmless enough for that) have failed to produce any hidden lyrical gems to compensate.

Beating up on a band like Tahiti 80 is much like making fun of the class softy; you know they're nice people at heart and they mean well, but their inoffensiveness becomes offensive after a while, and you just want to provoke them into showing some sort of anger. Tahiti 80 are the band Alan McGee should really have been targeting when he derided Coldplay as "bedwetting music." Listening to Wallpaper for the Soul (out on Minty Fresh on October 8), I am left totally unaware that I ever lived through or experienced punk rock.

Team USA's debut Listen To The Night had gone unopened for what seemed like too long, especially considering that it's on the generally excellent local label Star Time International (home to The Walkmen, Brendan Benson and French Kicks among others). Studying the guitar quartet on the cover, I figured it for ideal road music. Not so. The spirit is there, the intention is good (no surprise to find out the band formed as an oldies covers outfit in St Louis before relocating to NYC), but there's no excuse for the result: out-of-tune vocals, poor guitar solos, lax drumming and, worst of all, forgettable songs. Team USA's web site carries praise from the NME to Time Out, so maybe I just don't get it. And presumably, they're better as a live band. Because they certainly don't cut it on this outing.

At least Team USA have an excuse: they're a lo-fi garage band recording for a low-budget indie label. a.i. are at the other end of the spectrum, a hi-tech act signed to a major label, with a big budget and beneficiaries of a hefty push, and yet they're no more riveting. I was drawn to their debut, Artificial Intelligence, largely because of producer Chris Vrenna, the former NIN member, auteur behind the impressive Tweaker album The Attraction to All Things Uncertain, and an increasingly respected remixer. Vrenna claims of a.i.'s music that "it's so unlike anything I've heard in a very long time, totally innovative-sounding, totally fresh." That's debatable, for when singer Nick Young doesn't imitate Prince, he sounds very much like Perry Farrell; combine that with the album's electronica-psychedelia feel, and it's safe to say that if you imagine a cross between Jane's Addiction, Porno For Pyros and Perry Farrell's (under-rated) solo album, along with some Pink Floyd-esque guitar solos, you'll have nailed a.i. in a nutshell.

There's technical talent in a.i., that's obvious. But my complaint about Artificial Intelligence is the same as of all the albums that let me down on this drive: it's sorely lacking in proper songs. Track after track shimmers and shines as a result of unlimited studio time, but from the opening song (and first single) 'Bottoms Up' onwards, Young's voice searches aimlessly for a melody or a hook, and the more it does so, the greater Vrenna expands the production to compensate. Were the lyrics (reprinted on the sleeve) on a par with Farrell or Trent Reznor, some of the over-production and under-construction could be forgiven, but the group's words instead only stress their immaturity: "Get on the bed and put your bootie in the air and spread…" (from 'Bottoms Up'); "Have u ever dreamed of alien cream on the cover of a magazine?" ('Alien Sex'); "Laughter, hey-ya hey-ya hey-ya oh wo wo-eh-oh be what you are, be what you are, oh eh oh laughter" ('Laughter'). The full on dance floor rhythms of 'Caught n'Da Fire' (which sounds surprisingly like Republica) are not enough to render the increasingly high-pitched guitar solos that close out the album on 'Where We Go' and 'The Whales' anything less than painful.

Listening to an album as ultimately hollow as Artificial Intelligence, one is left asking, how does a band like this land a major label deal? The answer may lie in the line-up, which includes a Pablo Manzarek on keyboards and synth bass; if, like me, you automatically assume Pablo must be the son of another Manzarek (Ray) who also played keyboards and keyboard bass (for the Doors), well, you'd be right. It's unfair to then assume that Manzarek's name opened the doors (sorry!) for Pablo's fellow band members, Nick and Zack Young, but it's equally hard to figure why else the majors queued up to sign them, nor why Dreamworks has spent so much on an act that has so little going for it in the very department it matters: songs.

(I feel almost guilty for being so harsh, but in the middle of listening to Artificial Intelligence all the way through again, I followed an iJamming! Reader's e-mail link to the band Los Halos and the song 'Gold as The Color.' It's in a different league from a.i. in all the important areas – soul, texture, melody - and just further evidence that the best music continues to be released first on indie labels.)

Finally, and most crushingly, I can not over state my disappointment with Dot Allison's We Are Science – especially given that her two previous albums, the first fronting Scotland's excellent One Dove (Morning Dove White), the other her prior solo effort Afterglow, are each genuine chill-out/psych-out classics that are revered around here as spiritual talismen and still get regular airings. (In fact I've pulled out Afterglow again and found myself playing it three times in a row it's so ineffably seductive.)

The problems with We Are Science (like Saint Etienne's Finisterre, on Mantra UK, Beggars US) begin with the songwriting, which is more simplistic – but not as subtle – as in the past. For example, whereas Afterglow included the magnificent 'Message Personnel' with the steadily-repeated poetry "I'm inside, I'm outside, I'm with you, without you, don't love me, don't leave me, don't trust me, believe me," the opening song on the new album, 'We're Only Science' is four minutes old before it delivers any line other than the title, and 'I Think I Love You' merely repeats those same five words ad infinitum.

But the main cause for concern lies in engineer-mixer (and former Two Lone Swordsmen) Keith Tenniswood's god-awful programming. The drum pattern that opens – and immediately destroys – the song 'Substance' is primitive beyond belief, and the accompanying bleeps and bloops sound similarly dated, almost as if an 8-year old has found all the fun buttons on daddy's old synth and won't stop pressing them. Tenniswood's retro-arrangements similarly damage almost every other track on which he's credited, especially 'Make It Happen' and the already-limited 'I Think I Love You'; they cut through the car stereo so awkwardly that we were looking at each other asking the same question out loud: "Does this sound dated to you?"

But of course such sounds are not there by accident; they're there to sound electro-clash retro-chic fashionable. Allison has admitted to a fascination with Detroit's Adult. She got Felix da Housecat in to do remixes. Other reviewers have noted an affinity with Fischerspooner. It's all ludicrous given that Allison previously occupied a music and fashion orbit of her own design; to see her chase trends reveals an insecurity (or bad advice) that I previously hadn't suspected of her.

It's no surprise then that the strongest songs on We Are Science are those where she either does without any electronic accompaniment (the acoustic 'Wishing Stone', the basic and bullish 'Hex'), buries Tenniswood's programming under psychedelic-rock outs (the superb single 'Strung Out', featuring Mercury Rev's drummer and guitarist, and produced by David Fridmann – two years ago), has someone else do it (Tim Holmes on the Fridmann-produced, Afterglow-reminiscent finale 'Lover') or does it herself (the accurately-titled 'You Can Be Replaced'). Each of these five songs help redeem We Are Science from oblivion, but - especially given that only 'Strung Out' is as strong a song as those on Afterglow - not from its crushing sense of trend-chasing disappointment.

Out in the UK since May (and doing just about OK), We Are Science has a November release in America, at which time it will include dance remixes of 'Substance' (by aforementioned in-demand electro remixer of the year Felix da Housecat) and 'We're Only Science' (by Glasgow's Slam outfit). The latter is a tech-house stormer that sounds acutely out of place (if thoroughly enjoyable in its own right). The former is only going to further date the album as very much a product of the year 2002 – which, like the electro revival itself, will almost be over by time it sees American release.

In years to come, then, We Are Science may be held up as an example of what can go wrong when an artist chases passing trends; by that point, hopefully, Dot Allison will have made other albums to rival its gorgeous – and timeless – predecessors.



I wrote on Monday how Uncut magazine, in separate features, seemed upset that Bruce Springsteen doesn’t sing about American foreign policy on The Rising, and I wondered why it was so essential for the British music media that he did. The reason might be apparent in this newly released TransAtlantic poll gauging the political landscape post 9/11 in both Europe and the States. It turns out that a majority - 55% - of Europeans “believe U.S. foreign policy contributed to 9/11,” with the French (quel surprise!) leading the way at 63%. (Unfortunately this same question doesn't appear to have been asked of American respondents.)

My gut reaction was to take offense, but one reason this finding actually doesn't worry me is because I believe just about everything is connected to everything, and indeed I spend much of my time on this web site attempting to join the dots. I think it would have been much more revealing, though potentially frightening, had the question been worded "Were the 9-11 attacks 'justified' in view of U.S. foreign policy?" I have a nasty feeling in my gut that a significant degree of that same small majority may have also replied in the affirmative.

But then maybe not. Because the other reason this finding doesn't worry me is that the rest of the poll shows an almost astonishing correlation between European and American views. Who would have thought that the Americans were only four percentage points behind the Europeans in viewing "global warming as extremely important threat to vital interests" (46 as opposed to 50%)? Or that the Americans were actually five percentage points ahead of the Europeans in believing that U.S. troops should invade Iraq "only with UN approval and support of Allies" (65% as opposed to 60%)? Of course there are many differences too, but they're more slight that you would be had to believe: it's no shock that twice as many Europeans believe that U.S. should not invade Iraq under any circumstances as do Americans, but in both continents that viewpoint is a distinct minority: 26% against 13%.

And on it goes. A full 65% of Americans say the United States is "playing the role of world policeman more than it should". An impressive 78% of Americans favor "helping poor countries develop their economies" as a "measure to combat international terrorism", while 91% of Europeans say the same thing.

There’s only really two possible conclusions to this poll. One is that the (internationally separate) pollsters interviewed only American liberals/left-wingers and then only European conservatives to arrive at such comparatively close responses. (The results were printed in today's Wall Street Journal.) The other is that the media – especially in Europe, where it’s hard to open a paper or turn on the TV without being assailed with invective against America, as a national force and an (assumedly stupid and uninformed) people, as well as being sold all-out opposition to confronting Iraq in any shape or form – is firmly out of step with its citizens. This would back up my own experience from returning to the UK at Christmas last year and again in the spring, where I encountered enormous differences in opinion between the media I used to trust and the people I still do.

But while this proves, to my great relief and delight, that the media can’t fool all the people all the time, one statistic more than any other proves how much the media can at least influence them – and confirms the most distasteful political aspect of my last visit home. When asked to rate other countries on a thermometer scale of warmth, from 0-100, Iraq came bottom of the list among both Europeans (25%) and Americans (23%). The widest divergence, garnering a 55% warmth index among Americans but only 38% among Europeans? You guessed it: Israel.

Returning to what I wrote on Monday, I found the New York Times magazine with the Steve Earle interview and have expanded that paragraph accordingly.



"What happened last September was a very natural thing to write about, and there were a lot of obviously inspirational things happening at the time. You're trying to contextualise the event for yourself, I think that's where it starts. It starts with you trying to do it for yourself, and then in the process, because I learnt the language of songwriting and music, I try to communicate and hopefully do it for other people. I'm just doing something that's useful for me, and then hopefully in some fashion it's gonna be useful and will provide some service to my audience."

Last night I sat up late listening to The Rising yet again while reading the lengthy interview with Bruce Springsteen in the September issue of Uncut magazine. I came away dumbfounded at The Boss's ability to articulate, not only a nation's pain and confusion in the wake of the September 11 attacks (in song and verse), but also the musician's role in attempting to do so, as per the quote above.

The greatest songwriters have often described themselves as mere conduits, plucking melodies and lyrics out of the subconscious, and while that can occasionally make them sound pious, in Bruce's case he comes across instead as genuinely humble and compassionate, as if still in awe of his gift. In this interview with Adam Sweeting, he describes how, having written the first few songs for The Rising (talking in the second person as if first would intimate too much hubris), "All of a sudden you have elements of the story you're compelled to tell at a certain moment. That you're kind of asked to tell."

And he also confirms what I find most compelling about The Rising, that its lack of specific detail (i.e., at no point does he ever use the words "September," "11", "New York," "terrorists," or even "airplanes") is intended to allow the songs a wider resonance with a greater audience over a number of years. "It's not necessarily linear and it's not necessarily directly literal – in fact, hopefully it's not really literal," he explains. "That was something I was trying not to do. I wanted to feel emotionally in that context [i.e., the post-Sep11 landscape] but not directly literal." In this manner, I am certain, songs such as 'Empty Sky,' 'Into The Fire,' and 'You're Missing,' which as we close in on the first anniversary of September 11 are embodied with almost too much relevance, will in time come to mean different things to different people, including generations as yet unborn or unaware of that dreadful day.

I've also already commended Bruce's use of Asif Ali Khan and band on the song 'Worlds Apart' as a subtle declaration of cross-cultural unity. So I sat up and paid attention when Adam Sweeting played Devil's Advocate and asked Bruce if he doesn't "fear that hawkish commentators might accuse him of giving comfort to the enemy," to which Bruce rightly and politely shrugged off the question by noting that "anybody can say anything."

Subject closed? Maybe. But a loaded question can often be misinterpreted and I found it of interest that when my mother (something of a Bruce and Van Morrison fan), currently staying with us, read this interview before me, she came away believing that Bruce was already suffering criticism for including these musicians, as if his American audience was inherently prejudiced towards hearing Islamic/Pakistani musicians. And yet I'm unaware that 'Worlds Apart' has become any type of issue between Bruce and his audience, the media, or indeed the "hawkish commentators" to which Sweeting refers.

It suggests a certain perspective and preconception that is far from isolated. Sweeting also notes, for example, that Springsteen's "new songs deal with individual emotions and spiritual concerns rather than American foreign policy or the disastrous incompetence of the FBI." As indeed they do. And in his 5-star review of the album in the same magazine, Saf Manzoor writes "If you are looking for a critique of US foreign policy, keep looking." Which is also true.

But why, I wonder, should the British media feel that it’s Bruce’s job to publicly criticise American foreign policy? Had he wanted to get into polemics, why would Bruce not have had an equal right to assail Islamic Fundamentalism, which after all, was the real force behind the attacks on America? And maybe the FBI did exhibit "disastrous incompetence" as Sweeting editorialises, but if Bruce was to start pointing fingers and naming names, he could begin instead with Bin Laden and keep going till the end of his career. Under these circumstances, the fact that he actually references, impartially, "Allah" on 'Worlds Apart', and then on the song 'Paradise' takes the perspective of a teenage suicide bomber, indicates a worldly view that's understated in its public recognition. That his American audience, similarly, has accepted these lyrics without apparent uproar suggests a greater tolerance on their part than Uncut might want to credit them with.

On a similar note Steve Earle, who has taken on many a controversial subject matter during his time, has recorded a song 'John Walker's Blues' for inclusion on his upcoming album Jerusalem, giving emotional support to the man dubbed the "American Taliban." In a fascinating Q&A in the NY Times magazine a couple of weeks back, Earle explained that he has a 20 year old son he has found similarly hard to "keep under the porch" (no surprise given that Earle spent much of his son's teens addicted to heroin or in jail for its possession) and that "I felt like noone was trying to even consider for one second how he (Walker) got to where he got." Asked about other post-September 11 songs, Earle, who's one of the few country contrarians living in the music's cultural capital of Nashville willing to speak honestly, dismissed Toby Keith's 'Courtesy of the Red , White & Blue' as "pandering", "something that's calculated to further inflame people who are angry." He allowed that Alan Jackson's line on 'Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)' "about not knowing the difference between Iraq and Iran is unfortunate" (though being that it's true of many Americans, it's an important confessional lyric), and praised both Jackson, and especially, Springsteen, for their attempts to "empathize." "Bruce's record really went out of its way to be sensitive," said Earle, "and he pulled it off."

All of these are small details in a far bigger picture, but to me it says something profound that in the wake of mass murder from beyond and intense uncertainty within, songwriters such as Springsteen and Earle are willing to consider all points of view, including those from "another" side, and to defend their decisions so credibly. I only hope that those who hear their songs understand that while these people may seem like the exceptions to the general American populace - and it's true that Toby Keith's album made number one in America, just as has Bruce Springsteen's - they are in their position of influence because the general American populace entrusted them to it in the first place. If it's true that we get the leaders we deserve, then we warrant the likes of Springsteen in the cultural mainstream, and Earle on the fringes, every bit as much as we 'merit' the political 'leaders' who fail to lead us.

On a somewhat lighter note, I also used this wet and windy so-called holiday weekend as opportunity to watch the movie Hannibal. The final scene, which I'd somehow avoided hearing about until now (and which I won’t spoil for those still intending to watch it) found me literally hiding my eyes behind my hands in horror. Still, I had the assumption that it must be classic Hollywood fiction – i.e., this could simply not happen in real life – until I came across a cutting from the London Times abut "a newly discovered Bronze Age skull" some 4000 years old which "admirably demonstrated the skills of one of Britain's earliest brain surgeons. The skull belonged to the survivor of a grueling operation to remove bone from his head. . . (in which) The surgeon would have lifted a flap of flesh and slowly scraped away at the bone using a sharpened flint, while his patient was alive and, almost certainly, conscious." And if that sounds too painful to contemplate, the paper reports that "bone regrowth shows that the patient survived." The movie Hannibal suddenly sounds more plausible. As Dr Lector himself might have put it, it's certainly food for thought. (Or would he have said, "thought for food?")


LEVI STROKES EARS. . . (sorry!)

My ears have finally stopped ringing after The Strokes' deafening performance at Milk Studios in Manhattan on Thursday night. The invite-only show, which also featured Mos Def's rock group, Black Jack Johnson, and up-and-coming New Yorkers The Realistics, was part of a Levi's-sponsored party following the MTV Video Music Awards. Levi's has spent a fortune trying to buy back its youth market hipness in recent years (given that kids no longer buy 501s as a rite of passage), including sponsoring Giant Step shows for two years, plastering posters all over the subway system and taking out eight page inserts in fashion mags - and this only in New York. The company must be happy with the results, because it spent an absolute fortune Thursday night: the party, entitled 'Low Life' and also sponsored by The Fader magazine, had half a dozen fully stocked open bars, a DJ room, art installation and, in The Strokes, a headlining rock band reputedly paid a half-million bucks for their headlining shows at the UK's Reading and Leeds Festivals just a few days prior.

Then again, maybe The Strokes cut Levi's a break, feeling the need to maintain hometown visibility. Both Sweden's The Hives and Australia's The Vines got to play the MTV Music Awards; Detroit's The White Stripes took home three technical awards. Yet the group that really got the international rock'n'roll revival going, from MTV's base city no less, were shut out of proceedings.

Above: Julian 'Fucked-Up' Casablanas, Nikolai Fraiture, Nick Valensi, Albert Hammond Jr., and just off to the right, Fabrizio Moretti on stage at the Lowlife party after the MTV VMA show. RIght: Albert Hammnd Jr enjoys the glow of fame.

But then that's the beauty of being young and full of spunk: you can be fucked up and still rock shit. For the next 45 minutes, The Strokes delivered, if not the rawest, then certainly the loudest, set I've seen from them. As well as the obvious 'hits' – 'Is This It', 'Take It Or Leave It' and 'Last Night' – there was a healthy crop of encouragingly memorable new songs. What I thought was the cleverly-titled 'I'm Sleeping Too Much' was in fact 'You Talk Way Too Much'; the night's final number (before encores) was 'The Way It Is,' which came with a pronounced Buzzcocks chainsaw guitar assault that bodes well for a louder, more in-your-face future. With the exception of the contentedly 'fucked-up' Casablancas, wearing a '100% Irish' baseball cap, all members seemed to be as on the case as they were on form; I was particularly taken by Albert Hammond Jr.'s ebullient guitar playing, though then again, I was standing right in front of him. (And am I the only one who still has a 7" of his dad's brilliant 1973 UK hit, 'The Free Electric Band'?)

I've been ambivalent about The Strokes in the past for all the obvious reasons: their privileged backgrounds that jar with the image of downtown sackers, their British hype so far ahead of American popularity, and particularly their so-so debut album. But I've been willingly swept up in the excitement that surrounds them, most noticeably when they headlined and sold out Hammerstein Ballroom last Halloween and I felt a real sense of satisfaction that New York City could boast home-town heroes once more. At the far smaller Milk Studios Thursday night, there was a similarly wild energy, and I confess, it was contagious.

Two more takes on (one of) the bands of the moment - passed over for playing the VMA Music Awards, The Strokes play their own gig anyhow.

Ultimately I stick by what I wrote after Is This It did so well in the Voice Pazz and Jop Poll: that The Strokes, like Oasis at a similar point in their career, have it in them to be a brilliant and genuinely memorable band and to make a classic album. They won't get there by bringing back the song 'New York City Cops' (not because I defend the NYPD, but because the line "They ain't that smart" says more about the songwriters than their subjects). But they're making the absolute most of their fortunate start, they're not visibly complaining about the hard work, or resting on their laurels, nor acting out the pop stars – at least not any more than you would at their age. The buzz that surrounds them is now truly international and totally for real, the new songs stuck firmly on first listen, they know how to sweat onstage even when playing a private party – and, for what it's worth, on this occasion they couldn't have been louder if they'd tried.

ON THE SUBJECT OF NEW YORK BANDS. . .I had hoped this Saturday afternoon to get over to Williamsburg in time to see The Yeah Yeah Yeahs play a free outdoor show in a minute parking lot along with The Liars and a bunch of other local bands. But I'm also committed to my training for the New York Marathon and weekends demand an increasingly long run - trying to get up to 20 miles or more by early October, after which I can taper it back down a little before the November 3 race date. So today I got out and did a record (for me) 16 miles - five times round Prospect Park, including that steep hill on the way up to Grand Army Plaza. It was a solid two and a half hours running (to a couple of great compilation cassettes) but by the time you factor in warming up, getting up there, spacing out afterwards, cooling down, getting home, piling food down to compensate for the lost calories and a nice hot bath with some Epsom Salts to soothe the legs that seriously had no desire to do the last two laps, you're looking at an entire afternoon spent pushing oneself over the limits. I still jumped in the car, but as I saw a trail of those obvious Williamsburg hipsters strolling up Wythe Avenue while I drove down it, it was pretty obvious the headliners had just finished. I walked in to find a DJ playing Delta 5 and Kleenex 7"s from the Rough Trade label (where do all the local DJs find them in such mint condition?) alongside a stage about 6" high and 10' wide. Pissed off to miss it, as it's always fun to see a happening band in a small and unusual environment - as per the Strokes up above - and maybe I won't get the chance again. Still, one thing I've learned after 25 years of gig-going is that if you don't catch a band first time out, they're sure to be back. So I'll sleep well tonight regardless - and anyway, I think my legs demand it of me!



I’ve been hearing for a while about major labels releasing CDs that can’t be played on computers. My advance copy of the forthcoming Phil Collins album, Testify, is the first time I’ve been aware of receiving one. The following note came attached to the sleeve and the CD itself…

Please note: This CD has been individually watermarked with a unique identification number embedded in the music. This number is traceable directly to the authorized recipient, which allows us to identify the source of any unauthorized copies or other reproductions of the music contained on this CD. The watermark is not changed or destroyed by extracting clips of the music, or by using any compression technology such as MP3. The sound quality of the audio playback is not affected. This CD is intended to be listened to solely by the authorized recipient and no portion of its contents may be copied or reproduced in any manner, nor made available in any manner to any third party (whether by means of streaming, so-called “peer-to-peer” networks or otherwise). This CD should not be played in a computer. Thank you in advance for your understanding…Enjoy!”

In fairness, and before I go off on the subject, several aspects of this warning are intended purely for reviewers like myself who are meant to consider ourselves ‘blessed’ for receiving such a ‘long-awaited’ album up front, but are not supposed to let others hear the music until it’s officially released. I’ve always tried to play fair by that concept and would not, for my own part, put someone’s advance release up on the web, so I don’t desperately mind that the label is denying me the chance as a fail-safe.

However, there are bigger issues at play here. The whole concept of personally watermarked CDs that can be traced back to their individual recipients smacks of an Orwellian big brother, while the sale of CDs that won’t even play in computers suggests some kind of trade restriction that would surely not survive a challenge in court (which I hope arrives soon). Major labels are entitled to enforce their copyright but surely once someone buys a CD they should be able to play it on any home system capable of doing so? I frequently play CDs on the computer; I know people for whom it is their primary stereo system. For the major labels to limit what home systems people can play their CDs on seems rather like my insisting which room of your house you can read my books in (and as I’ve also stated many times before, I have no control over people sharing my book, or borrowing it from the library; I consider it an honor in both cases). I’m tired of repeating the same opinions I’ve been stating since I started this site, but let’s face facts: The genie is out of the bottle, and for major labels to treat consumers and reviewers as potential criminals hardly endears any of us to their cause. (Or does anything to put the genie back in.)

While on the subject of ageing rockers taking themselves way too seriously, I’ve been struggling for the last week to make sense of this quote by Roger Daltrey, defending The Who’s decision to keep touring without John Entwistle. David Barton, who I believe reported it as an onstage comment, originally quoted him in the Sacramento Bee, and I read it last week in the Asbury Park Press. The comment is as follows: “If these firemen in New York City had given up, New York would still be a mess.” Can he seriously be comparing himself and Pete Townshend, two millionaire musicians who have not made a new record in twenty years, to the firemen who risked and gave their lives on September 11? Can he seriously be suggesting that it’s as important for him and Pete not to “give up” as for the firemen, and presumably other citizens and officials of New York, similarly not to give up. Listen, The Who gave one of the performances of their lives at the Concert for New York City in the wake of September 11, and the group’s love for the people here has been well documented, by me among others, but please tell me this isn’t one of the dumbest and crassest comments I’ve heard in years. Please please please.

Staying with the older generation, but on a warmer note, my Jeff Beck interview, archived from the Keith Moon book, received a huge number of hits this past week. Turns out that although I’ve had it posted here for a long time now, it was only just linked from this Jeff Beck appreciation site. Thanks to everyone who stopped by to read it, and I hope you found other writings here of interest. I certainly hope so: I respect Jeff Beck enormously, not just for that revealing interview, but for continuing to push his personal envelope at an age when most artists have stopped taking critical and commercial risks - but continue to take themselves too seriously.

Tomorrow's Musings will be about far younger artists - I can guarantee that!
FOR AUGUST 17-30 DAILY MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes holiday musings, wine reviews, Luna at Southpaw, and more)
FOR AUGUST 10-16 DAILY MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes lengthy Who live review)
FOR JULY 27-AUG 9 DAILY MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes Area 2, 24 Hour Party People Party, Hootenanny Tour, 2 Many DJs and more.
FOR JULY 20-26 DAILY MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes Wilson Pickett, John Entwistle, rebuilding downtown NYC)
JULY 13-19
DAILY MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes Love Parade, Teany, RenewNYC, Femi Kuti, NRA, Londonisation of New York, F Britishification of Global Rock)
FOR JULY 6-12 DAILY MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes Mike Meyers as Keith Moon, the RAVE Act, John Entwistle, Michael Jackson, Southpaw, Moby Online, Layo & Bushwacka!,
(accidentally deleted)
FOR JUNE 29-JULY 5 DAILY MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes World Cup Final, John Entwistle's legacy, The Who's decision to carry on, the meaning of July 4)
FOR JUNE 22-28 DAILY MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes World Cup diary, Dr. John, Doves, Mermaid Parade, John Entwistle's death, Timothy White's death, Clinic Firewater and Radio 4 live, The Who's decision to carry on)
FOR JUNE 15-21 DAILY MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes World Cup diary, Liars live, GiantFingers, the Big Takeover)
FOR JUNE 8 -14 DAILY MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes World Cup diary, StellaStarr*, Jose Padilla, Dee Dee Ramone, suicide bombings)
FOR JUNE 1-7 DAILY MUSINGS, CLICK HERE (includes World Cup diary, Southpaw, Six Foot Under, Andrew Sullivan)

What is iJAMMING!?

Back in the heady punk rock heyday of 1977, I started a fanzine at school, following the famous encouragement of (what I had thought was) Sniffin' Glue founder Mark Perry that "it was easy, it was cheap, go and do it." Truth is, it wasn't always easy and the printing bills certainly weren't cheap, but I did it anyway. And I had fun. For many years. Until eventually the business realities of running a monthly magazine got in the way of the creative energies, it stopped being fun, the bean counters took over and so finally, almost a decade after it was launched, the magazine - Jamming! - folded.
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